Thinking Out Loud

April 29, 2009

The Growing Easter Worship Void: A Last Look at 2009

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~Galatians 2:20


I mentioned a few weeks ago that I enjoy reading the worship sets that people file at Fred McKinnon’s blog as part of something called The Sunday Setlists.   So I looked forward to the recap of what was being presented on Fred’s blog for Easter Sunday in some of the top churches in the U.S., Canada and beyond.    I know some worship leaders find the Christmas Carols frustrating — we won’t get into that debate now — but figured anything dealing with suffering, death and resurrection of Christ would represent the best that Christian music (modern and traditional) has to offer.

Some worship directors clearly rose the occasion.   In both their comments and their choice of songs it was clear that this high point in the church calendar was also the high point in the worship music cycle of their house of worship.

good-friday1But other worship leaders clearly weren’t going to let something as pedestrian as Easter get in the way of their worship agenda.    In fact a couple of churches — as evidenced either in the WL’s writeup or further linking to the church sites — clearly continued with other theme series they were running.   At least one did a kind of split service between their current series and Easter, as though the ‘holiday’ was an interjection not unlike making room for a baby dedication or mention that it’s the Sunday closest to Veterans Day.

On April 13th, I wrote the following letter to McKinnon:

I didn’t want to spoil the mood in the Sunday Setlist comments, but it’s amazing to see the difference between the WLs who really focused on the death and resurrection of Christ, and those who simply did the songs that are currently popular, or the songs they were going to do anyway before Easter “got in the way.”

Everybody encourages everyone else in the respective blog comments; there seems little room for critical evaluation here.

The one that really got me was the church that went ahead with a sermon series acknowledging that it had nothing to do with Easter.

As a guy who is being edged out of weekly WL duties — it is a young man’s game — I really wish I was still more active, when I see so much disregard for the central Sunday of the church calendar.

More recently the blog Slice of Laodacia reports that the website Pirate Christian Radio awarded the “Worst Easter Sermon Award” to Joel Osteen.   Here’s some highlights:

“Every Christmas Christians whine and complain about secular and atheistic efforts designed to take Christ out of Christmas yet more and more Christian pastors have committed an even worse offense and have removed Jesus Christ and His victorious resurrection from the grave from their Easter sermons,” said Chris Rosebrough. “Far too many pastors have played the role of Judas and have betrayed Jesus. Rather than being paid 30 pieces of silver, these pastors have sold Jesus out for the fame and adulation that accompany having a ‘growing, relevant ‘man-centered’ church’.”

…The sermons Rosebrough picked for this year’s contest included:

  • A sermon that explored the “deep” spiritual lessons of the movie Slumdog Millionaire .
  • A sermon entitled “Beer Babes & Baseball”
  • A sermon entitled “Livin’ Venti” that encouraged people to live life to the fullest.
  • A sermon entitled “You Have Come Back Power”
  • And a sermon entitled “Easter in the Octagon”

This year’s winner of the first ever, Worst Easter Sermon Award went to Joel Osteen’s sermon “You Have Come Back Power”.

Commenting on Osteen’s sermon Rosebrough stated, “Jesus didn’t die and rise again on the cross so that you can have ‘come back power over life’s set backs’. Osteen completely missed the point of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and as a result he missed the entire point of Christianity.”

Said Rosebrough, “I wasn’t surprised that Osteen was the first winner of this award. Osteen is like the Tiger Woods of heresy, he takes false teaching to a whole new level.”

And also a couple of days ago, Stephen Weber on the devotional blog Daily Encouragement writes the second of a two-parter called The Tyranny of the New writes:

…Most churches now want to be identified as contemporary (whatever that really means). Wouldn’t most churches in 1900 or at any other time in history have been contemporary during their age?

My annoyance at the contemporary church is not the embracing of the new, something I feel has been done all through history, but rather the tendency to devalue and disparage the old.  Among so many I encounter a snobby attitude toward older music, i.e. hymns or even music written within the past twenty five years.

I was visiting with a friend after Easter who attends a self-identified “contemporary” church in our area. He’s my age and has a history in the church. I asked him about the service, “Did you sing some of those great Easter songs like ‘He Lives’ or ‘Christ The Lord Is Risen Today’?”  He told me, “Oh no, we just sang new choruses.” I asked if they sang any songs dealing with the Resurrection. He told me they sang an “old” song from 1999 that he thought might have had something to do with the Resurrection! That’s sad!

One of the best memories I have of 2008 is a Good Friday service where the worship was led by a man in his late 60s.   He chose mostly modern worship pieces, but the choices were so absolutely, totally focused on the message of the cross. At the time, the choices seemed so self-evident — especially having just come from a similar service in a nearby town — but I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote them all down anyway, trying to preserve this lesson in choosing worship material.

By the way, Weber’s text for his post was:

“This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it'” (Jeremiah 6:16).

christoncross1I think that something key is being lost when worship leaders miss the point.   In the church I contributed to most over the past three years, I was solely responsible for the first 35-40 minutes of the service, and then the pastor would speak for 35-40 minutes.   That’s a major responsibility.    I wasn’t on staff, I wasn’t on the board, but I had the second largest contribution to each person’s Sunday worship experience.    Humbling.

Therefore, I wouldn’t dare walk into an Easter Sunday service without being absolutely convinced that this particular date demanded my absolute best.    Easter is why we have a church.   Easter is why we have a faith.   Easter is why we have a hope.   Easter is why we have salvation.


Update March, 2010:  As we approach Easter again I noticed this particular post was getting a lot of traffic.   I just want to point out here that The Sunday Setlists — mentioned in the first paragraph — is now part of The Worship Community blog.

Also, if you’re not a regular reader here, I also didn’t want to leave the impression I was giving a blanket endorsement to the Slice of Laodicea blog or to Pirate Radio.   I’m just saying that I think in this instance they got it right.



  1. Romans 14:4-7 (New International Version)

    4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

    5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.

    If the preaching is cross-centered throughout the year, the observation of a particular date is not crucial (pun not intended, but appropriate).

    My personal preference is for observance, but I recognize it as a preference, not a Biblical command.

    Comment by Janet — April 30, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

  2. Interesting to overlay verse 5 on this particular discussion and context. You’re looking at this from a different perspective, and I like your comments.

    I keep thinking though that a worship leader has a rather huge responsibility placed on them at certain times of year. It’s not just about expectations, but about the idea that they are choosing the materials and forms that will express worship to God on behalf of an entire congregation. Their music choices should reflect all that the congregation wants to express on this particular Sunday (and, as you point out, every other Sunday, too.)

    Hmmm. Anyone else want to jump in?

    Comment by Paul Wilkinson — April 30, 2009 @ 5:36 pm

  3. I’ve also been a worship leader in a previous iteration, although in a very different context, that of a pioneer French evangelical church in Quebec. The congregation members were pretty much all first-generation believers, having taken a rather radical stand bordering on religious and cultural betrayal to be there. They were not interested in preserving traditions, far from it. The brouhaha I created by using the pipe organ sound on the keyboard one time! The connotations of dead religion were just too strong for many people.

    The apostle Paul, in this passage and elsewhere, allows for a lot of freedom of religious practice and expression, which is worthy of a lot of thought. Think also of the destruction of the bronze serpent by Gideon. Traditions can morph and become unhealthy.

    On the other hand, tradition is enormously important too. God spent a lot of time establishing festivals and traditions and that also is worthy of a lot of thought. Still, they were always a means and not an end, as Jesus made very clear in establishing his Lordship over the Sabbath.

    I have mostly ignored Joel Osteen, so I don’t know if the criticism of him is valid or not. If it is, I think that’s a bigger issue that the number of Easter songs on the roster.

    Having said all that, if I were leading the Easter worship services, it would be packed with songs referring to the crucifixion and resurrection, and they would be drawn from at least three centuries. I would also make sure that they got a lot of lung time the rest of the year.

    Anyway, I like your blog and its thoughtfulness. Keep it up.

    Comment by Janet — April 30, 2009 @ 5:57 pm

  4. Yeah, we had everything in this post but the kitchen sink. Almost captures the spirit of a real conversation; or at least the way I often jump from topic to related topic.

    Comment by Paul Wilkinson — April 30, 2009 @ 6:31 pm

  5. Agreed! Without Easter we would even not have Christianity. We would just a bunch of worship leaders doing their own thing. Hmmm….

    1 Corinthians 15:18-20
    “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

    But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

    Comment by mikebuckley — May 1, 2009 @ 7:07 am

  6. […] There’s more on this in a Spring, 2009 piece I wrote called The Growing Easter Void. […]

    Pingback by When 40 is Too Old to Serve Your Church « Thinking Out Loud — July 1, 2011 @ 6:23 am

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